The Left Hand of Darkness

The Left Hand of Darkness

by

Ursula K. Le Guin

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Left Hand of Darkness can help.
An interplanetary trade coalition. Genly Ai, who works on its behalf, describes it not as a “kingdom, but a coordinator, a clearinghouse for trade and knowledge.” Ekumen sends Ai as an Envoy to convince the governments of Gethen to join its alliance.

Ekumen Quotes in The Left Hand of Darkness

The The Left Hand of Darkness quotes below are all either spoken by Ekumen or refer to Ekumen. For each quote, you can also see the other terms and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Ace Books edition of The Left Hand of Darkness published in 1987.
Chapter 3 Quotes

“…if there were anything these Ekumens wanted from us, they wouldn’t have sent you alone. It’s a joke, a hoax. Aliens would be here by the thousand.”
“But it doesn’t take a thousand men to open a door, my lord.”
“It might to keep it open.”
“The Ekumen will wait till you open it, sir. It will force nothing on you. I was sent alone, and remain here alone, in order to make it impossible for you to fear me.”
“Fear you?” said the king, turning his shadow-scarred face, grinning, speaking loud and high. “But I do fear you, Envoy. I fear those who sent you. I fear liars, and I fear tricksters, and worst I fear the bitter truth. And so I rule my country well. Because only fear rules men. Nothing else works. Nothing else lasts long enough. You are what you say you are, yet you’re a joke, a hoax. There’s nothing in between the stars but void and terror and darkness, and you come out of that all alone trying to frighten me. But I am already afraid, and I am the king. Fear is king! Now take your traps and tricks and go, there’s no more needs saying.”

Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile
Chapter 5 Quotes

“But we in the Handdara don’t want answers. It’s hard to avoid them, but we try to.”
“Faxe, I don’t think I understand.”
“Well, we come here to the Fastness mostly to learn what questions not to ask.”
“But you’re the Answerers!”
“You don’t see yet, Genry, why we perfected and practice Foretelling?”
“No—”

“To exhibit the perfect uselessness of knowing the answer to the wrong question.”

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Faxe (speaker)
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 7 Quotes

Consider: Anyone can turn his hand to anything. This sounds very simple, but its psychological effects are incalculable. The fact that everyone between seventeen and thirty-five or so is liable to be…“tied down to childbearing,” implies that no one is quite so thoroughly “tied down” here as women, elsewhere, are likely to be—psychologically or physically. Burden and privilege are shared out pretty equally; everybody has the same risk to run or choice to make. Therefore nobody here is quite so free as a free male anywhere else.
…Consider: There is no unconsenting sex, no rape. As with most mammals other than man, coitus can be performed only by mutual invitation and consent; otherwise it is not possible. Seduction certainly is possible, but it must have to be awfully well timed.
Consider: There is no division of humanity into strong and weak halves, protective/protected, dominant/submissive, owner/chattel, active/passive. In fact the whole tendency to dualism that pervades human thinking may be found to be lessened, or changed, on Winter.

Related Characters: Ong Tot Oppong (speaker), Genly Ai
Page Number: 100
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Yet you cannot think of a Gethenian as “it.” They are not neuters. They are potentials or integrals. Lacking the Karhidish “human pronoun” used for persons in somer, I must say “he,” for the same reasons as we use the masculine pronoun in referring to a transcendent god: it is less defined, less specific, than the neuter or the feminine. But the very use of the pronoun in my thoughts leads me continually to forget that the Karhider I am with is not a man, but a manwoman.
The First Mobile, if one is sent, must be warned that unless he is very self-assured, or senile, his pride will suffer. A man wants his virility regarded, a woman wants her femininity appreciated, however indirect and subtle the indications of regard and appreciation. On Winter they will not exist. One is respected and judged only as a human being. It is an appalling experience.

Related Characters: Ong Tot Oppong (speaker), Genly Ai
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 10 Quotes

Obsle, speaking to persuade others, had said, “Either Karhide will fear the strength this alliance will give us—and Karhide is always afraid of new ways and new ideas, remember—and so will hang back and be left behind. Or else the Erhenrang Government will get up their courage and come and ask to join, after us, in second place. In either case the shifgrethor of Karhide will be diminished; and in either case, we drive the sledge. If we have the wits to take this advantage now, it will be a permanent advantage and a certain one!” Then turning to me, “But the Ekumen must be willing to help us, Mr. Ai. We have got to have more to show our people than you alone, one man, already known in Erhenrang.”

Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 14 Quotes

“But for what purpose—all this intriguing, this hiding and power-seeking and plotting—what was it all for, Estraven? What were you after?”
“I was after what you’re after: the alliance of my world with your worlds. What did you think?”
We were staring at each other across the glowing stove like a pair of wooden dolls.
“You mean, even if it was Orgoreyn that made the alliance—?”
“Even if it was Orgoreyn. Karhide would soon have followed. Do you think I would play shifgrethor when so much is at stake for all of us, all my fellow men? What does it matter which country wakens first, so long as we waken?”

Related Characters: Genly Ai (speaker), Therem Harth rem ir Estraven (Estraven) (speaker)
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 15 Quotes

…Hate Orgoreyn? No, how should I? How does one hate a country, or love one? Tibe talks about it; I lack the trick of it. I know people, I know towns, farms, hills and river and rocks, I know how the sun at sunset in autumn falls on the side of a certain plowland in the hills; but what is the sense of giving a boundary to all that, of giving it a name and ceasing to love where the name ceases to apply? What is love of one’s country; is it hate of one’s uncountry? Then it’s not a good thing. Is it simply self-love? That’s a good thing, but one mustn’t make a virtue of it, or a profession…Insofar as I love life, I love the hills of the Domain of Estre, but that sort of love does not have a boundary-line of hate. And beyond that, I am ignorant, I hope.

Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Chapter 20 Quotes

“Why the devil did he cheat me?” he demanded in his high strident voice, and for the first time looked straight at me.
“Who?” I said, sending back his stare.
“Estraven.”
“He saw to it that you didn’t cheat yourself. He got me out of sight when you began to favor a faction unfriendly to me. He brought me back to you when my return would in itself persuade you to receive the Mission of the Ekumen, and the credit for it.”
“Why did he never say anything about this larger ship to me?”
“Because he didn’t know about it: I never spoke to anyone of it until I went to Orgoreyn.”
“And a fine lot you chose to blab to there, you tow. He tried to get the Orgota to receive your Mission. He was working with their Open Traders all along. You’ll tell me that was not betrayal?”
“It was not. He knew that, whichever nation first made alliance with the Ekumen, the other would follow soon: as it will: as Sith and Perunter and the Archipelago will also follow, until you find unity. He loved his country very dearly, sir, but he did not serve it, or you. He served the master I serve.”
“The Ekumen?” said Argaven, startled.
“No. Mankind.”
As I spoke I did not know if what I said was true. True in part; an aspect of the truth. It would be no less true to say that Estraven’s acts had risen out of pure personal loyalty, a sense of responsibility and friendship towards one single human being, myself. Nor would that be the whole truth.

Page Number: 315
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The Left Hand of Darkness LitChart as a printable PDF.
The left hand of darkness.pdf.medium

Ekumen Term Timeline in The Left Hand of Darkness

The timeline below shows where the term Ekumen appears in The Left Hand of Darkness. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1 
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...the two men do not get along, but doesn’t understand the politics. Still, in the Ekumen, power is subtle and complex, so Ai is familiar enough to be interested in what... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...done his best to plead Ai’s case with the King, Argaven sees Ai, and the Ekumen by extension, as a threat to his power. Ai is irritated, as Ekumen, whose goal... (full context)
Chapter 3
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...greater force than fleets and armies” if given enough time—and time is a resource the Ekumen has an endless supply of, even if he, personally, does not. (full context)
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...explains that he wants to add Gethen to a vast trade network coordinated by the Ekumen. Argaven is used to speaking politically, where every conversation is a verbal duel. Ai, speaking... (full context)
Sex, Gender, and Behavior Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Ai tries to soothe the King, explaining that all the people of Ekumen, 3,000 nations across 83 planets, are “all sons of the same Hearth.” He shows the... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Argaven wonders what will happen to Ai if he refuses to join the Ekumen. Ai explains to him that due to the mechanics of space travel he (Ai) could... (full context)
Chapter 5
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
...to ask something more serious. Ai asks if Gethen will be a member of the Ekumen within five years. Faxe tells him his question is answerable, and the Foretelling begins. (full context)
Chapter 10
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
After lunch the assembled officials ask Ai about himself, his mission, and the Ekumen. Ai remembers Faxe’s stance on questions and answers. In Karhide he was primarily questioned by... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Yegey doesn’t understand why Ekumen is interested in Gethen, and Ai explains that he’s just trying to facilitate trade and... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
...sees him as a fraud. Obsle, Yegey and others think that by joining with the Ekumen they can demonstrate their superiority to Karhide, thus diminishing the other nation’s shifgrethor permanently. Additionally,... (full context)
Chapter 15
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...a journey undertaken for “the augmentation of the complexity and intensity of intelligent life,” an Ekumnical quote borrowed from Ai.  Ai responds with his own Ekumenical quotation. (full context)
Chapter 16
Truth and Storytelling Theme Icon
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
...a diary. Ai, although he knows he should keep a record of his time for Ekumenical files, does not. Estraven keeps his diary for the Records of his Domain, and for... (full context)
Chapter 18
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...to keep it a secret from other Gethenians until he can check in with his Ekuminical comrades. Ai feels that mindspeech is the only gift of civilization he can give to... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Light and Dark, Religion and Spirituality  Theme Icon
Estraven wonders again why Ai was sent alone. Ai explains it is the Ekumen’s custom, though he doesn’t fully understand the reasons, knowing only that it values beginnings, and... (full context)
Chapter 19
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...so commits to asking Argaven to revoke Estraven’s banishment before Karhide is inducted into the Ekumen. Estraven appreciates the gesture, but says he has been exiled from his true home for... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
...they travel towards Sassinoth, which houses a radio powerful enough for Ai to contact his Ekumenical shipmates. Instead of camping, as they did all winter, the pair relies upon the hospitality... (full context)
Chapter 20
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
...Estraven betrayed him. He sees Estraven’s attempt to get the Orgota government to join the Ekumen as an affront to Karhide and to himself, as its King. (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
Otherness and Connectedness Theme Icon
Ai tries to explain that Estraven knew that if one Gethenian nation joined the Ekumen, others would follow. Ai tells Argaven that Estraven loved his country, but served only one... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
...fulfill his mission. Argaven is happy Karhide will be the first nation to greet the Ekumen. Argaven is also happy Ai has made “liars” and “fools” of the Orgota Commensals. Ai... (full context)
Duty and Loyalty Theme Icon
...betrayed Estraven, although he knows that Estraven’s primary wish was for Gethen to join the Ekumen(full context)